Almost 40 years after his death, Steve McQueen remains the definition of cool. Within minutes of meeting his son Chad you realise that more than a little of his Dad rubbed off on him.
He’s in Ireland to drive the new Ford Mustang V8 5-litre Fastback — the first made for Europe. Taking it on a trip around Ireland’s narrow and winding roads is something that you know is right up his street.
It’s also fitting that Chad should roll into the county Henry Ford’s father left well over a century ago driving a car his father immortalised in the legendary 1968 film Bullit.
Apart from his father’s looks and charm, you quickly learn that Chad McQueen also inherited his dad’s love for cars. Speaking to him in Henry Ford & Sons on Boreenmanna Road, his interest in the history of the company is clear. He looks at old pictures of historic Ford models before declaring them “bitchin”. He also asks staff for the exact year Henry Ford’s father left Cork. It’s 1847, in case you didn’t know.
“I think one of the reasons I am here is because of Bullit. The relationship with Ford and my dad started when that film came out and even before that when they were shooting in late ‘67. I go to a lot of events for them and I do a lot of stuff with them so I think they thought it was a fun idea to bring me over here for the launch of the right-hand drive Mustang... Ford and my family go back a few decades.”
Driving fast is in his blood. Like his father, he’s been an actor and a race car driver. He broke his neck in a crash at Daytona in 2006 — an accident that left him in a coma for three and a half weeks. The fact he’s still alive, let alone driving around Ireland in a Mustang, is a miracle.
Like the cars he drives, his trip around Ireland is a fast one but one that has convinced him to come back and enjoy it a little more slowly next time.
“First time in Ireland. I’ve covered about 800km in four days. It’s been a whirlwind. Great people, great hotels. I’ve kind of been in a cocoon with the production crew and being in the car and being driven from hotel to hotel to hotel. I’ve seen a lot of geography, I’ve met a lot of nice people but it’s been at a quicker pace than I would have liked,” he said.
So what does he think of Irish roads? He pauses, before chuckling. It seems they took some getting used to.
“ The national roads, some of the narrower roads and stuff would be fun if they were blocked off but you get some of these truck drivers and they know they got the power and tonnage and they just come right over in your lane. They don’t give a shit, they just don’t care!
“But in terms of fun? They’re a lot of fun. There’s a lot of undulations. But the highways out here, they’re so smooth with nice twisties but anywhere you drive in the world, you are going to have your differences. You have to adapt,” he says.
As for road signs, and the lack of them in some of the more beautiful parts of Ireland, a smile tells you that was all taken care of.
“I’ve been fortunate enough that Ford has put together an idiot-proof scheme for me . They heard about me before I came over.”
Given he is driving in Europe in an American car, a question on preference is met with a response typical of a man who takes his motoring seriously.
“You gotta catch me on the day. I drive everything. I’m not in this club or that club. If you take an antique Mustang — they’re great in a straight line. But say you take a 1969 911 2 litre Porsche it doesn’t have the same explosiveness but you get it up in a canyon and they’re a dream. Each car used to have their merits. Nowadays, this new Mustang is so well balanced and behaved.”
As for modern car movies, Chad reminds me that when his Dad made films, they didn’t have CGI. When the car looked like it was really moving, that’s because Steve McQueen was really driving it that fast.
“Listen, everything is so different now with CGI but my Dad’s whole thing was when he shot Bullit, when he shot Le Mans, it was at race speeds, doing real stuff.”
“It’s still held as the benchmark as far as a chase scene. You’ve got French Connection, that wasn’t really a car scene. The Italian Job? No thank you. I know I am standing a little close to it but from what I hear it’s still number one.”
Ask pretty much anyone who’s seen the film and you’ll get the same answer.
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